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Case Study: Sick Building Syndrome in a Humid Climate
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An indepth environmental investigation was conducted at a four-story building officing 1200 employees in Oklahoma. A preassessment and walkthrough of the facility revealed extensive ongoing renovations throughout the building. Renovations consisted of installations of new partitions, carpeting, ceiling tiles, and repainting. Management was receiving numerous complaints related to the indoor air quality from all parts of the building, particularly the unrenovated areas. The majority of employee complaints originated from the unrenovated second floor; in contrast, few complaints had been submitted from the finished fourth floor area. Due to the disparity in employee complaints from these two floors, the investigation focused on a comparison of the air quality on the second and fourth floors. The initial walkthrough revealed inordinate amounts of dust in the occupied space of the second floor. High humidity levels were measured throughout the building. Other potential problems -- i.e., poor lighting, job stress, poor air circulation, stuffy air, thermal discomfort. smokers in the area --were also noted at this point. Questionnaires were made available to occupants on both floors to attain a better understanding of employee problems and assist in formulating an investigation plan. Collectively the nonspecificity of the responses tended to indicate building-related problems often described by the term ''Sick Building Syndrome" (SBS). Based on the questionnaire responses, the walkthrough observations, and the lack of specific illnesses, the investigation focused on identification of and testing for sources of chemical and particulate emissions and possible inadequacies of the mechanical ventilation system in providing the necessary amount of outside air. Although the building investigation revealed few signs of biological contamination, problems of this nature are not uncommon in climates with high humidity. The potential for biological proliferation in buildings with excessive humidity are discussed in the paper. The SBS causation was multifactorial and thus could not be attributed to a single etiologic factor. Temperature and humidity problems were partially attributed to the inadequate provision of chilled water (at a low enough temperature) to ensure proper tempering and dehumidification of the supply air. These periodic excursions in temperature and relative humidity were compounded by an associated reduction in outside air which exacerbated the situation. Other recommendations had to do with improving the filtration system, balancing of the air handling system, improving the ventilation efficiency, separation of smokers and nonsmokers, and the infusion of a fastidious cleaning and maintenance program combined with an adequate supply of fresh air per ASHRAE 62-89 specifications.
Shaughnessy, R. J.; Levetin, E. (1990). Case Study: Sick Building Syndrome in a Humid Climate. Energy Systems Laboratory (http://esl.tamu.edu); Texas A&M University (http://www.tamu.edu). Available electronically from